I love this old 1930s Wurlitzer accordion ad. Only the first few lines of text are shown, but it appears to be warning prospective accordion shoppers against the scourge of foreign-made instruments. But what I really love is the matter-of-fact introduction: “For fun, fame and profit play the accordion.” Ah… so that explains the proliferation of rich and famous accordionists everywhere. Sign me up!
In a genre (conjunto) dominated by men, Eva Ybarra has done more than hold her own — she has become a master. Born in San Antonio, Ybarra is a self-taught accordionist who began playing in clubs and restaurants at age six. Her fluid style and fast, melodic runs set her apart and earned her the nickname, “la reina de acordeón” (queen of the accordion). Today, after years of performing solo and with her own group, she teaches accordion and inspires the next generation of conjunto musicians.
A profile of Ybarra in today’s San Antonio Express-News covers her music, her teaching, and the challenges she has faced as a rare female accordionist in the conjunto world. If you’ve never heard her play, check out the title track from her 1994 album, A Mi San Antonio:
Yesterday at the library and I came across this children’s book, Baby Danced the Polka by Karen Beaumont (illustrated by Jennifer Plecas). It is a very cute book about a baby who doesn’t want to take a nap, but instead wants to dance… the polka! After searching Amazon, I found that the book is highly rated — 5 stars! I’m glad to see a popular children’s book about polka. Hopefully this is just the start of a huge resurgence!
Apparently no one in America is blogging about Canadian folk singer/accordionist Maria Dunn, so we’ll just have to do it ourselves. Born in Scotland and raised in Ontario and Alberta, Dunn brings characters to life in original music that pays homage to her Celtic roots and Canadian upbringing.
Her most recent album, We Were Good People, is practically a Ken Burns documentary of turn-of-the-century Alberta, painting vivid pictures of farmers, soldiers, and day laborers struggling to get by. But it’s no dry history lesson; Dunn’s sharp, inspiring lyrics are backed by eclectic instrumentation that toes the line between Celtic and bluegrass beautifully.
This track, “Can You Blame the Poor Miner?”, pays tribute to beleaguered Crow’s Nest Pass miners during Prohibition:
A true accordion prodigy, Joey Miskulin first picked up an accordion at age four and made his first record at twelve. When he was thirteen, Miskulin’s career took off and he became a featured accordionist in his idol Frankie Yankovic’s band. It was a partnership that lasted for over thirty-five years, as Miskulin frequently joined Yankovic both in the studio and on the road, and even produced Yankovic’s Grammy-winning album, 70 Years of Hits.
In 1987, Miskulin moved to Nashville and hooked up with Western music and comedy group Riders in the Sky, known for paying homage (and poking fun) at the classic cowboy songs of yesteryear. Today, he still plays accordion, writes, and produces albums for the group, including their work for the Pixar movies Toy Story 2, Monsters Inc., and Cars. Here’s a Riders in the Sky clip with Miskulin singing Webb Pierce’s “Texas Sand”:
What’s on the accordion calendar this week? Here are some highlights:
- Ivan Milev Band (Tuesday in New York, NY)
Bulgarian accordion legend Ivan Milev plays rousing Balkan folk music with virtuoso technique. Watch this clip and try to keep up with his fingers.
- Rice and Gravy Cook-Off (Saturday in Lafayette, LA)
Mmm… the Louisiana Beef Council’s Rice and Gravy Cook-Off promises free rice and gravy samples, plus zydeco music from Kevin Naquin and the Ossun Playboys, Terry and the Zydeco Bad Boys, Donnie Broussard and Louisiana Stars, and more. First 500 people get a 1 lb. bag of rice!
- Jason Webley (various dates)
The charismatic, tomato-lovin’ singer/songwriter/accordionist continues his East Coast tour this week with dates in New York and Massachusetts.
In other news, our calendar is no longer limited to North America — we now list events in the United Kingdom and (soon) the rest of Europe. So if you have an accordion event coming up soon, even if it’s across the sea, let us know.
Best known as a member of both DeVotchKa and the Denver Gentlemen, accordionist/violinist Tom Hagerman recently released his first solo album, The Breakfast Playground. Named for a children’s playground at a Denver mall, the album showcases Hagerman’s diverse talents through original instrumentals performed almost entirely on his own.
Like the music of DeVotchKa, Hagerman’s songs have a dramatic, cinematic quality, inviting listeners on a journey. The train noises that open “So Tired” lead into a Eastern European melody that makes you think you’ve just stepped off the train in Budapest. The swirling mix of accordion, violin, and piano on songs like “Twice Told Tale”, “Home Again”, and “Charlotte Mittnacht” (which DeVotchKa fans may recognize from their 2004 album, How It Ends) call to mind Yann Tiersen’s Amelie soundtrack.
The Breakfast Playground draws you into a world where toy pianos and children’s voices mingle with soaring violin figures and accordion rhythms. Definitely a world worth escaping (and listening) to.
Yesterday’s Monty comic is probably a good indication of how my neighbors feel. I almost always warm up by playing “Beer Barrel Polka”; maybe it’s time to mix up my practice repertoire… just for my own safety.
I’m not sure we can fit another accordion in our house, but I’d make room for this gorgeous acoustic wood accordion built by Victoria Accordions in Castelfidardo, Italy. Victoria was founded by Dario Dari and Adriano Picchietti in 1919 and continues to produce high-quality accordions today for artists like Richard Galliano, Coba (Yasuhiro Kobayashi), and Bjarke Mogensen. They also make wood diatonic accordions and bandoneons that are equally stunning.
One band I missed in my SXSW accordion recap was Shawn Sahm and the Tex Mex Experience. As you might have guessed, Shawn is the son of the late Doug Sahm, founder of the Sir Douglas Quintet and Texas Tornados.
The Tex Mex Experience is quickly making a name for themselves with their high-energy, accordion-fueled Texas rock, and have opened shows for Los Lonely Boys, Robert Cray, and Susan Tedeschi. And this review of their SXSW showcase suggests they’re ready to break out:
“The fusion of all-out rock, hot-licks accordion and guitar, spot-on vocals and catchy, hook-laden songs is irresistible. If the business types from the music industry are worried about marketing a rock band with an accordion, they need to get over it, strap on their dancing shoes and unleash the Tex-Mex Experience.”
Here’s a live clip of the Tex Mex Experience playing “Why Doncha?”; watch for the accordion solo (by former Texmaniac Michael Guerra) halfway through.